Government response

Letter from FCO Minister to The Independent on UK arms exports to Sri Lanka

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Submitted on 18 February, in response to the article “Revealed: UK sells arms to Sri Lanka’s brutal regime”, The Independent, 18 February 2013

I was disappointed to read today’s article “Revealed: UK sells arms to Sri Lanka’s brutal regime”, which misrepresented the UK’s export control policy towards Sri Lanka.

The article suggested the UK had changed its policy towards Sri Lanka and was focused on selling more arms to the Sri Lankan military. This is not the case and the facts speak for themselves. During the period your article covered, only 2 licences were approved for the Sri Lankan military. One licence related to shotgun cartridges for sporting use and the other communications equipment for a transport aircraft.

The UK operates one of the most rigorous and transparent arms export control systems in the world. Respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms are mandatory considerations, and we clearly state that we will not issue an export licence if there is a clear risk that the proposed export might be used for internal repression.

The small arms to which your article refers were for export to private maritime security companies engaged in legitimate work countering the threat of piracy in the region, and not the Sri Lankan Navy. I assure you that export licence applications for this equipment were considered thoroughly against the UK’s export licensing criteria and licences only approved when certain conditions were met. Security companies, for example, must be signed up to the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers; equipment may only be used by personnel of the named security company and restrictions on the number and storage of firearms must be observed. In this case all three conditions were met.

Export control is a complex area that attracts a wide spectrum of views. However, it is important that the debate is properly informed with accurate information. Sadly in this case that has not been the case.

Alistair Burt, Foreign Office Minister for Sri Lanka and Arms Export Controls